The 9/11 Commission Recommendation that Hasn’t Happened: Clear Congressional Oversight of Homeland Security Dept.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013
(novel by Jan Freed)

Congress has not been doing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) any favors by having so many committees oversee the agency’s work, which has only served to weaken the nation’s efforts to protect itself, according to a new report.


It was the 9/11 Commission nearly a decade ago that recommended to lawmakers that they consolidate congressional oversight of DHS. Since then, no action has been taken, prompting the commission’s leaders and other former government officials to call for something to be done now.


In the Task Force Report on Streamlining and Consolidating Congressional Oversight of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 9/11 Commission co-chairs Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, along with former homeland security officials, have warned that the current situation on Capitol Hill has resulted in “fragmented jurisdiction” that “impedes DHS’ ability to deal with three major vulnerabilities: the threats posed by small aircraft and boats; cyberattacks; and biological weapons.”


The new report, produced by The Aspen Institute and The Annenberg Retreat, recalled what the 9/11 Commission stated years ago: “So long as oversight is governed by current Congressional rules and resolutions, we believe that the American people will not get the security they want and need.”


What’s wrong with the present way oversight is set up?


More than 100 committees and subcommittees claim jurisdiction over DHS. This results in the agency spending inordinate amount of time just responding to congressional requests, instead of focusing on potential threats.


“Think of having 100 bosses,” said Kean. “Think of reporting to 100 people. It makes no sense. You could not do your job under those circumstances.”


In 2009 alone, the agency spent the equivalent of 66 “work-years” responding to congressional inquiries.


The task force has offered several recommendations for Congress to consider:


  • Model DHS oversight after those used for other key agencies, like the Pentagon and the Department of Justice.


  • Adjust committees claiming jurisdiction over DHS so that they have overlapping membership.


  • Put a time limit on subcommittee referrals to expedite matters of national security.


  • Adopt an authorization bill for DHS, giving the department clear direction from Congress—something lawmakers haven’t done since formation of the department in 2002.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Task Force Report on Streamlining and Consolidating Congressional Oversight of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (Aspen Institute and Annenberg Retreat) (pdf)

The Nine 9/11 Commission Recommendations Still Unmet (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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